At the highest level, goaltender is often considered the most important position. A netminder is relied upon to make – and hopefully not break – a team’s season. However, at the youth level, goaltenders are often the forgotten boys and girls on a team because the coach thinks, “I don’t know anything about goaltending, how can I coach it?” or there is a goaltender coach that the child works with outside of practice.
Regardless of the reason (or excuse), the best coaches will have a plan for the development of their goaltenders.
“Great coaches have a season plan that incorporates their goalies,” said Phil Osaer, USA Hockey ADM goaltending manager. “They’ll plan for their goalies’ individual skill development along with the team’s development. They collaborate with any and all parts of the goalie support system – if there is a goalie-specific coach on the staff or the goalie does have an external goalie coach and their parents.”
Not every goaltender is fortunate enough to have a goalie-specific coach on staff or able to afford a personal goaltending coach. But there is more than enough goalie-specific educational material, drills and practices for any coach to quickly learn how to coach goalies.
51 in 30
To help local coaches in their quest to help goaltenders, USA Hockey launched the “51 in 30” initiative. It’s a lofty aim.
“The 51 in 30 goal is to have 51 percent of the minutes played in the NHL and NWHL played by Americans by the year 2030,” Osaer said.
This entails a holistic approach to improving the American goalie development culture through coach and parent education, goaltending development and collaboration with all aspects of the youth hockey world leading into junior hockey, collegiate hockey and ultimately onto professional hockey.
“We want our goalies who have the dream to play at the highest levels to embrace that dream and for us to give them an environment and enable them to chase that dream with every resource,” Osaer said. “We’re big believers that when a child says they want to make it to the NHL or to the NWHL, that we want them to continue to chase that dream and we want to help them achieve that dream and every hockey aspiration they have, knowing that throughout that process, they’re going to learn many valuable life lessons and they’re going to be able to develop as players and as people.”
Creating a competitive practice environment
“We as a hockey culture need to hold all of our coaches accountable to coaching all of their hockey players, and goalies are hockey players too,” Osaer said. “It’s the simplest position in our sport.”
Osaer said that, in a perfect world, goalies would be given seven to 10 minutes for goaltending-specific skating and a particular fundamental save drill. After that, goalies should be ready to get right into the flow of practice.
“Once a goalie jumps into team drills, you never want to tell your team to warm up the goalie,” Osaer said. “The goalie should never go into a drill thinking that he or she shouldn’t be trying to stop every shot.”
Next, it’s important to focus on the quality of reps rather than the quantity of reps. Coaches should hold goalies accountable for being a good teammate and understanding that he or she is not going to be able to completely finish every save, but that most drills should allow for that. Finishing a save means the goalie tracks the post-save rebound, whether it’s in the corner or in a spot it can be covered.
Coaches can also foster a more competitive practice atmosphere.
“Allowing an environment where the goalie and shooter can play out every rebound all the time, so we have a team where shooters are hungry to score on the rebounds and goalies are urgently recovering to rebounds to either clear them away from dangerous areas or, even better, to cover the puck,” Osaer said.
Goalie-specific skills and drills
A good skating warmup is a five-point movement ladder. The drill improves goaltending skating while utilizing visual attachment to the next point.
Set up five staggered pucks or cones. Have the goaltender begin at the bottom of the ladder and T-Push to the top of the ladder as if he or she was taking on an odd-man rush, and then use varying movements on the way back down the ladder, skating as if there were an imaginary net. Goaltenders can add in variations, including shuffles and butterfly saves. The netminder should lead every movement with his or her eyes, chin and shoulders.
Along with skating, puckhandling is another skill that is often overlooked for goaltenders, but shouldn’t be ignored.
“All goalies at all ages should be handling the puck out of their net and encouraged to do so. It helps them develop their hockey sense and confidence in puckhandling,” Osaer said. “From a team perspective, it gives you a 6-on-5 every time the puck is in your own zone.”
Coaches can set up a partner passing progression that will help develop their goalies’ passing and puckhandling ability.
Set up four cones in a small box. Goaltender 1 passes to their partner. The second goaltender catches the pass in a goalie stance and carries the puck around the cone and then passes it back. Each goaltender repeats the same pattern. Goalies can add variations by doing a figure eight around the cones or skating forward/backward/pivoting around the cones.
“For the 51 in 30 initiative, it’s one more way our goaltenders can separate themselves from the rest of the world,” Osaer said.
For more creative ways to help your goalies develop to their full potential, search #51in30 on Twitter, download the USA Hockey Mobile Coaching App for free, and visit www.USAHockeyGoaltending.com.